Tag Archives: books

A Bookish Weekend Up North: The Manchester Literature Festival 2016

manchester-literature-festival-2016-logoI really love discovering a city through its cultural venues and this October I spent a weekend in Manchester to attend a few of the Manchester Literature Festival events. Running from 7 to 23 October 2016 and in its 11th year, the city-wide festival offered over 80 readings and talks for book lovers. I managed to catch these great events:

An Evening with Jackie Kay Manchester-based writer Jackie Kay, is always a pleasure to listen to. The event at Halle St Peter’s was chaired by Rachel Cooke, who guided the conversation from Jackie’s childhood with her adoptive parents in Glasgow, to her early years as a young poet up to the present time becoming Scotland’s ‘makar’ (poet laureate) in March 2016 and planning a new project based on visiting all the Scottish islands (sounds fascinating!). There is always such an interesting contrast between Jackie’s bubbly, outgoing personality and her thoughtful, melodic poetry, often dealing with some serious subject matter. I was glad I picked up her memoir Red Dust Road, which chronicles the search for her birth parents in Scotland and Nigeria, after the reading. While the book is partly incredibly sad, it is a fascinating, multi-layered read, which is also extremely funny and honest.

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi This event was held at the Central Library and featured one of Sudan’s best known poets who has been based in the UK since 2012. After a bilingual reading of his poetry in Arabic and English, the writer was interviewed by author Travis Elborough. I’m always interested to learn about cultures I don’t know much about and languages I don’t speak. As a translator, this often reminds me of the language barriers that need to be overcome in order for different cultures to understand each other and poetry is definitely one of the most beautiful ways to accomplish this.

ann-cleeves-event-manchester

Shetland with Ann Cleeves When I was visiting Glasgow for Celtic Connections last January someone recommended the TV series Shetland to me. Having never been a fan of crime dramas or novels, I reluctantly gave it a go, but was quickly hooked by it, like so many of us have been. So of course I jumped at the chance to see the author of the Shetland series, Ann Cleeves, in conversation with lead scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe and actor Alison O’Donnell, who plays Tosh in the series. The event (see image above) chaired by broadcaster Erica Wagner provided a fascinating insight into the writing and adaptation process and it was lovely to see how well the collaboration seems to have worked in this case.

As it was my first visit to Manchester I also tried to get a good bit of – mostly literary – sightseeing in over the weekend. Here are some of my highlights:

chethams-library-manchester-1

Literature-related museums and places: The John Rylands Library is part of the University of Manchester and the historic building dates back to 1824. I was even more impressed with a tour of Chetham’s Library (pictured above) the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom, which, together with the renowned school of music, was established as early as 1653. Not specifically literature-related, but well worth a visit is The People’s History Museum. It has some fascinating exhibits and brings the history of working people in Britain to life, right up to the present day. Second hand and comic bookshop Paramount Books, near the Shudehill bus station is a great place for stocking up on reading material about the city and further afield.

nexus-art-cafe-manchester

Cosy cafes & pubs (with lots of veggie options): I ate at quite a few places during the weekend, which included The Earth Café (great veggie curry and desserts) in the basement of the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Another favourite was the fairly well hidden Nexus Art Café (cakes, coffee, snacks, see their courtyard above) as well as Common (extremely yummy veggie chili cheese fries). For a coffee or tea break you can’t go wrong with a visit to North Tea Power or Home Sweet Home. On Sunday night I headed to Odd Bar for a few drinks and some (by chance excellent) live Americana with The Wicked Path. I didn’t have enough time to make it to HOME and The Deaf Institute (they apparently do a great vegan hangover all day brunch on Sundays) this time, but did take a look at The Pilcrow Pub (see below), one of Manchester’s newest community ventures, which was largely built by volunteers (how cool is that?!).

pilcrow-pub-manchester

Making World Literature Your Oyster: The Daunt Books Festival 2015

The good thing about living in London is that hardly a week goes by without a writers festival happening somewhere around the city. Not all of them take place in such a wonderful bookshop and are as lovingly curated as the Daunt Books Festival in Marylebone, however.

Daunt window

For the second festival on 19-20 March 2015, bookseller and organiser Emily Rhodes put together an enticing programme of talks and discussions for all ages. I would have loved to be at all the events (smaller scale festivals with only one event at a time are great as no clashes), but sadly work commitments got in the way.

Anthea Bell

The talks I did catch were excellent though. On Thursday I was lucky to be at a conversation between former children’s laureate, novelist and poet Michael Rosen and one of the top literary translators in this country, Anthea Bell (mainly from German and French), chaired by Julia Eccleshare.

The topic was loosely based around fascinating German author Erich Kästner’s work, but also covered various other childhood favourites in translation. You can listen to a podcast of Rosen visiting the Berlin of „Emil and the Detectives“, a Kästner classic originally published in 1929, which was also recently made into a successful Westend production, here. Even just looking at the different covers from various past English editions of the popular children’s book translated from German was fascinating. So was the discussion on the German and English film adaptions of the book. Compared to existing children’s literature of the time, it was a groundbreaking novel and the only one of Kästner’s pre-1945 works to escape Nazi censorship.

Daunt Books Marylebone

On Friday I started my book festival day with some delicious spiced hot chocolate from Roccoco chocolates before the first author event of the day: In Praise of Short Stories. I love short stories and far from being in any way inferior to the novel as a literary genre, they have their own appeal. There are even specific short story festivals, such as the London Short Story Festival or the Cork Short Story Festival in Ireland.

Today’s first panel was chaired by Laura Macaulay, publisher and bookseller at Daunt, and consisted of writers Tessa Hadley, Colin Barrett and Julianne Pachico. Listening to excerpts from stories by each of the panelists and the discussion that followed we were reminded what makes short stories so unique: they are unpredictable, irresistible glimpses into fictional worlds and can be a very rewarding reading experience if we are willing to give them a try. A short story, as writer AL Kennedy puts it in an article, “can offer the artistry and intensity of a poem, the themes and weight of a novel and all in a space so small that there is nowhere to hide a single error.”

My third and last event of the festival was Russians in Paris, about émigré Russian writers of the 1920s and their influence on Russian and foreign literature. Translator and editor Bryan Karetnyk, author Peter Pomerantsev and literary critic and writer Nicholas Lezard discussed Russian literature past and present, the relevance of Paris as a base for so many writers in the 1920s (including the fact that most Russian émigré writers had excellent French) as well as the freedom which a move to another city and country can bring to one’s work. I had never read any books by Gazdanov or Teffi before, the talk definitely piqued my interest in Russian writing, however.

book table

Luckily, there are UK publishers who specifically focus on the world’s literature in translation. These include And Other Stories, Pushkin Press and Peirene Press and Daunt stocks quite a few of them.

If you have caught the translated literature bug and are keen to read more books from cultures around the world in translation, you can take a look at @TranslatedWorld as well as hashtags #TranslatedWorld and #NameTheTranslator on Twitter for excellent suggestions. There is also a useful calendar of literature translation related events (mainly in the UK).

Thanks to Emily for being so welcoming and for answering all my questions on festival programming, preparations and her other bookish adventures. You can read my interview with her here and are welcome to join her monthly Walking Book Club in London.

Meet the Festival Makers: Emily Rhodes of Daunt Books Festival

Festivals are all about people and creativity. In a new series of interviews we ask some of our favourite “makers” to tell us a little more about their creative projects, inspirations and passions. First up is Emily Rhodes, director of the Daunt Books Festival.

Emily Rhodes walking book club

Life is a Festival: It’s the second year of the Daunt Book Festival and after a successful first year the line-up for 2015 looks very promising again. How did the festival come about in the first place and how did you get involved personally?

Emily: Thanks! I’ve been bookselling at Daunt for a few years and love the lively atmosphere of our literary talks … so I thought why don’t we have a whole festival? It would be so much fun! Everyone seemed keen on the idea, so then it was just a case of making it happen.

Life is a Festival: There is a lot of work which goes on “behind the scenes” to make a festival happen. Who else is involved and how long do the preparations take?

Emily: We couldn’t do it without the wonderful support and encouragement of so many publishers and authors – if everyone I asked  to take part said ‘no thanks’ then we wouldn’t have much of a festival. The Howard de Walden Estate were also behind it from the start and great at putting me in touch with people and helping to make it so Maryleboney. I began thinking about the line up in August-September, but even before that were the beautiful limited edition bags to sort out with Re-Wrap and the brilliant designer Will Grill, who came up with this year’s fun, playful design.

Life is a Festival: How do you go about choosing authors for the festival programme and matching the right writers and interviewers to get a good discussion going?

Emily: It’s a bit like planning a party – I think of all the authors and critics  I would like to see (and who I think our customers would like), think about what they might have in common, and match them up. I also look at what new books are coming out and see if I can draw out any common themes for discussion. It’s always fun when you get authors embarking on a larger conversation about what they’re passionate about rather than just summarising their books, so the chemistry between speakers is vital.

Life is a Festival: Are there any personal favourites you are especially looking forward to this year or are particularly excited to have secured for the 2015 line-up?

Emily: Ummm… all of it! I’m especially thrilled to have got Michael Palin on board. He is in such demand, so it was lovely to think that the shop meant enough to him to get a yes. I am also very excited about the opening ‘choosing your heroines’ event with Samantha Ellis, Anne Sebba and Alex Clark  – a great chance to think about some inspiring women; oh and Owen Jones and The Nature Cure … there’s lots and lots to look forward to.

Life is a Festival: Finally, you run a very popular “walking book club”, tell us a little more about this unique project and your book blog EmilyBooks.

Emily: I love walking and I love reading; working in the Daunt’s right by Hampstead Heath, I realised rather a lot of our customers felt the same, so I thought why don’t we go for a walk on the Heath and talk about books? So we did. It’s really taken off, I think because it’s so much easier to talk when walking side-by-side with everyone, looking at such amazing views and getting all that fresh air, and it means that nobody can dominate the discussion as there are so many conversations going on at once. I love it! It’s also a good chance to highlight some older books – many of which risk falling of the reading radar, slightly correcting the usual reading/bookselling focus of sticking to those which are newly published. And I started my blog because I wanted to give myself the space to think about everything I read – like a reading diary. Then it was a very pleasant surprise to find that other people read it, and to build up some connections with like-minded bloggers.

Thanks very much to Emily Rhodes for the interview and check out Daunts Book Festival, which takes place in London 19-20 March 2015.

Daunt Festival 2015 pic